In the Viking Age there was something called a Scald. This was a man often close to the king or chief. His job was to create and tell  dramatical stories - poems - about the heroic actions of his master.

Fact: The word scald derives from the old Nordic word Skáld, which dates from the Early Viking Age. The stories were told in kvad (verses), and the oldest, preserved scaldic verses date from the 9th century. Even though the verses were communicated orally, a few of the most popular ones were written down. An entire scaldic epic is preserved on the runic stone Karlevi on Öland, dating from the 11th century, and today many verses, written down during the 12th/13th century, survive in the Icelandic sagas.

The scald's task

Because the scald oftenformed part of the king's or the chieftain's group of housecarls, his metres or verses  were called Dróttkvætt, the metres of the housecarls.

The most important task of the scald was to maintain or enhance his master's reputation. His verses had to praise the King, create a good reputation for him by relating his brave exploits on the battlefield and make sure that the stories were remembered after his death. The Viking Egil Skallagrimsson, who was also a skilful scald, is known from the sagas. When he won a battle he described his actions in verse:

“I rushed around with bloody blade and ringing spear

the raven followed me, the Vikings surged forward

enraged we fought

fire blazed over men's dwellings

we let the bloody bodies lie lifeless".

In addition to entertaining guests in the King's hall the scald probably also took part in longer expeditions. It was therefore important for him to be able to improvise and conjure up verses about heroes and battles won whenever the King or the chieftain wished – for example before an important battle: In AD 1230 Snorre Sturlasson wrote in Olav the Holy's Saga that early one morning, just before the battle of Stiklestad in AD 1030, scald Thormod Kolbrunsskjald narrated the Eddic poem Bjarkemål. The poem was about the brave, legendary king Rolf Krake and his men's many battles, and it was intended to give courage to Olav's warriors before the battle.

"Long swords

sing strangely

split axles

and tear open chests".

The contents of the poems

Several poems contain kenninger, which gave them their exciting and dramatic style, often by supplying bloody details. Kenninger consist of two words: a main word and a qualifying word. Some examples of kenninger are: "the wound's sea" or "the sword's sweat", which refer to the blood flowing from a battle wound, "horse of the waves" where horse means a ship, and "flame of the Rhine" which means the Rhine's gold.

Several poems also contained myths and legends about the Nordic gods, as the Vikings were of the opinion that the gods had a great influence on the outcome of a battle.

By: Louise Kæmpe Henriksen